Taking photos with the HiLO

Shooting with the lens takes some getting used to, as half the fun comes when you use it hands-free. With the HiLO Lens, shots over a crowd are easier to frame: You put the lens on, and because you can snap a shot with the screen facing downward, you don’t have to shoot blindly.

You can also shoot sky shots or photos of tall buildings without looking upward by attaching the lens facing toward the top of the phone. In video mode, it allows for easier handling too: You can steady your camera at waist level, looking down at the screen while it's parallel to the ground.

Shooting upward is the best hands-on application of the HiLO lens.
The lens does a decent job in low light, but white balance sometimes looks off.

The HiLO Lens also helps in situations where you can’t see the screen at all. You can place the phone flat on the ground, screen facing downward, to capture extreme low-angle shots of pets or feet in the crowd. You can also use the same setup on a tabletop or another flat surface as a makeshift tripod.

You may be wondering how this works without being able to see the screen or tap the shutter, which are flat on the ground or a table in these scenarios. The answer lies in the HiLO Lens’s accompanying iOS-only app, which is specifically designed for use with the optics. There’s a voice-recognition feature that you can use to operate the iPhone camera without using your hands (“HiLO, take a photo,” “HiLO, begin video,” etc.), and there’s also a delayed-shutter timer that lets you dial in your own number of seconds.

The prism element in the HiLO Lens creates a mirrored image, which you can also auto-correct with the companion app. Even if you’re not interested in the lens itself, the free HiLO Lens app for iOS is worth downloading due to those voice-control and shutter-timer features, which are useful for any phone-tographer.

Most of the app’s features are designed strictly with the HiLO Lens in mind, however, such as automated photo- and video-straightening features that correct barrel distortion due to the HiLO’s wide-angle lens. Keep in mind that the “Straightening” features don’t correct tilted photos, but the app also offers a fun way to do that, too. By turning on the app’s “Gesture Support,” you can fix tilted images as you’re taking them with a two-finger twist on the image preview.

Laid directly on the floor, the HiLO can offer a lower perspective and hands-free capture control. (We liked the upside down perspective here too.)

While those are handy additions to the iPhone’s stock camera app, I didn’t like the way the HiLO app processed low-light shots as much. White balance skews to the yellow/orange side when there isn’t much light to work with, and contrast doesn’t look as sharp.

Overall impressions

The HiLO Lens isn’t designed to be attached to your phone at all times, and for an occasional-use lens, the $60 price is a bit high. Still, it’s a hassle-free way to experiment with low-angle, high-angle and hands-free shots, and it’s one of the more creative ways to get tripod-like stability when you shoot photos and videos.

The accompanying free app has a lot of useful features that help you get the most out of the HiLO Lens (mirror correction, distortion correction). Even if you’re not interested in the lens itself, there’s a few features that are really handy even when you’re shooting without it (voice recognition, timed shutter release and tilt correction). But keep in mind that the HiLO app's image processing works best when you're shooting in daylight.